Bulgaria’s caretaker PM on energy issues, social spending steps

The Cabinet has decided on an inquiry into the situation along the entire chain of how prices are determined in the energy sector, Bulgarian caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov said on March 20 2013 after the interim government’s first scheduled formal meeting.

“Obviously there are problems,” said Raykov, in office pending the formation of an elected government after the May 12 ahead-of-term parliamentary elections, which were precipitated by the resignation of the Borissov government because of nationwide protests that started over consumers being faced with high electricity bills.

These problems, Raykov said, derived from the fact that Bulgaria had not yet met a series of engagements in terms of decisions by the European Union. He noted that there was an infringement procedure against Bulgaria for not adopting the measures connected to the third energy package.

Energy sector liberalisation would provide a major part of the solution to people’s problems, Raykov said.

He said that the Competition Protection Commission had been asked to establish whether there was a cartel in operation, and said that he would like to see regulators being truly independent, not only in terms of recruitment but also in terms of the way that they operated.

A thorough analysis of the monopolies would be done, through an independent international audit, with incurring costs to the taxpayer, Raykov said.

He said that his administration was committed to looking for financial reserves to assist socially vulnerable groups. The administration would focus on three groups – unemployed people, children and people with disabilities who had been denied the allowance for heating because their incomes exceeded by a small margin the threshold for social assistance.

At the same, Raykov in effect issued a reminder of the rules governing what caretaker cabinets can and cannot do in Bulgaria, saying that the interim government would not undertake any borrowing “not of one lev, nor of hundred of billions of leva”. He dismissed as unfounded reports that it would, saying that it would be unlawful for the caretaker cabinet to do so.

Raykov said that there was no reason to speculate about the state of the fiscal reserve, which at March 18 was four billion leva, with a further 1.2 billion leva expected to arrive in the treasury by April 20. The caretaker government was committed to the budget for 2013, which provided for the fiscal reserve to reach 4.5 billion leva by the end the year.

By the end of February, overdue debts owed by Bulgaria’s central and local governments amounted to 108 million leva and 173 million leva, Raykov said

“About 70 per cent out of this 108 million leva are debts of one subject. The overdue debts are decreasing. Some baseless tension is being incited. We will do our best to pay off the money. The current debts are smaller than those accumulated in the previous years. We must help the small and medium enterprises, we undertake this engagement,” Raykov said.

Kalin Hristov, caretaker Minister of Finance, said that the trajectory followed by the budget and revenues showed that the budget, as adopted, could be fulfilled.

In its decisions today, the Cabinet agreed that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Labour and Social Policy, Deyana Kostadinova, and Finance Minister Kalin Hristov would be the government representatives at the National Council for Tripartite Co-operation, due to meet on March 22.

The co-ordination of activities related to organising and preparing for the May 12 elections was entrusted to the Minister of Justice, Dragomir Yordanov, while the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, Ekaterina Zaharieva, will be in charge of compiling and issuing voters’ rolls. Responsibility for the preparation for voting in elections by Bulgarians abroad was assigned to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivan Naydenov.

“I would like to see Bulgarian and foreign observers on the Citizens’ Board for Fair Elections,” Raykov said

Raykov also referred to the controversy involving Professor Mihail Konstantinov, chairperson of the board of Informatsionno Obslujvane, the state-owned IT firm that, among other activities, provides the software for tallying the votes in all Bulgarian elections. Konstantinov recently said that he would do everything possible to prevent a return of the tripartite coalition – the coalition that governed Bulgaria between 2005 and 2009, in which MRF was a minority partner. Two parties in that coalition – the socialists and MRF – have now asked for Konstantinov’s sacking.

Raykov said that he had had a “not very easy and not very short” conversation with Konstantinov. “I suppose that you know my position on his statements, which cast suspicion over his political unbiasedness. My position is absolutely categorical and it is in line with the evaluation and position of several political leaders. I personally have no grounds to, and thus I do not, question the professional dignity and moral integrity of Professor Konstantinov. All hypotheses that Professor Konstantinov can manipulate the ballot papers’ counting, according to him, are unfounded. The selection of people in charge of the counting of ballot papers is regulated in concrete way. A competition will be organised and we expect the candidacies to be filed until March 26. If I share my decision now, it may possibly affect the selection of the ballot paper counters. I have made a decision and I will announce it after the procedure is finalised,” Raykov said.

The caretaker Prime Minister said that his Cabinet would continue the practice of posting online transcripts of its meetings. Transparency would be a major principle in the work of the Cabinet, Raykov said.

* As the Cabinet meeting started, there was a minor melodrama outside when a group headed by minority ultranationalist party leader Volen Siderov attempted to enter the Council of Ministers building, saying that as MPs they had a right to attend Cabinet meetings. Security personnel barred their way. “We want to see how this sitting proceeds and I see nothing embarrassing in that,” Siderov said. “This is a caretaker government and cannot bar our access.” He said that the caretaker cabinet was not subject to control by the National Assembly (dissolved when the interim administration came into power) and so the only was for there to be a “civilian presence, lest something happen behind the scenes”. Siderov’s group previously tried to attend the last sitting of the Boiko Borissov cabinet.





The Sofia Globe staff

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